Christmas lights

IF I do nothing else over the next week or so –and doesn’t that sound wonderful, doing nothing for a week? -I’m determined to talk to the owner of a house up the street from my place, around the corner and about 200 metres along.

I want to talk to him, her,them or it about theChristmas decorations that have taken over the property, because they’re fabulous.

And a warning before we go any further. Regular readers of this space will know I love Christmas lights. The more the merrier. The goofier the better. The flashier, twinklier, more garish and colourful, the more I like it.

If inflatable Santa’s backside is protruding from a chimney I’m entranced.

If aroof is festooned with reindeer or sleighs, or the three wise men, or shooting stars, giant trees, Christmas bells, meteors, “Merry Christmas” signs, sheep, kangaroos,Santa’s little helpers or candy canes, I’m as happy as Larry.

If every bush in a front yard is draped in twinkly lights that flow from the bush to the footpath and on to the front gate, I’ll stand for ages watching the colours change.

If a car pulls up outside your house at a weird time of night, for what seems like a disturbing amount of time, just check if it’s a woman with a smile on her face and wave. It could well be me.

If it’s an affliction it’s lifelong. I was the kid walking the streets in the 1960s and 1970s looking for that era’sChristmas decoration excess –a tree with coloured baubles, tinsel andlights, and extra lights around the window. When my sonswere young I used the children as an excuse to indulge my affliction while assuring myself it was both educational and good for their health to have them walking the streets with me after dark, checking out the neighbours’ displays.

But back to the house near my house.

It’s a normal-looking place –single storey brick with a tile roof.My brickie’s daughter instincts tell me it’s probably 1980s vintage.

The owner/owners don’t do the house over in Christmas gear in one weekend hit.

No, that’s the best thing about this Christmas transformation. It’s the decoration equivalent of a slow striptease in reverse.

The Christmas tree in the big front window appears first, covered in enough lights to illuminate a small village, with a giant star on the top.

Then the maypole appears in the front yard. Why a maypole? I don’t know. But that’s the beauty of Christmas decorations these days. There are no rules or guidelines. I don’t know why people have twinkly Christmas sheep on their roof either, or kangaroos, but I love them anyway.

So, the maypole appears next. Pass by the following day and there’s a line of lights twirling up the pole and across to the roof. A day later there’s an inflatable Santa by the gate. A day after that and every camellia and oleander isoutlined in lights. The big frangipani out the front is dripping with blue and white icicles.

And it doesn’t stop there.

The roof display isn’t complete until you canbarely see tiles. A giant Santa lollsgently in the breeze, like a slightly tiddly old uncle on Christmas afternoon. Another smaller Santa sits in a sleigh pulled by a pile of reindeer.

A series of Christmas trees of different heights make a small roof forest, and shooting stars and other lights arrangements takeup any spare space.

Even in daylight it isimpressive.

I want to say hello to the owner of the house and ask how the decorating started. Is it the work of one crazed Christmas nut in a household of decoration cynics –“Really Gerald, aren’t we a bit old to be putting out illuminated ‘Santa please stop here’ signs?” –or is it a family thing –“Beryl, you hold Rudolf while I climb up the ladder and hitch the reindeer to the sleigh”?

Is it just lights at Christmas or do they have strings of little lanterns on their back veranda all year round?

I first wrote about Christmas lights 15 years ago, a short time after the first Bali bombing and while the world was still convulsed by the fallout from the September 11 terrorist attacks.

I’d had an ordinary day –and I can’t remember why –and I passed a small timber house on the Central Coast on my way home. Quite afew years earlier the house was the scene of a shocking double murder, where a man killed his wife and their young daughter, and attempted to kill their baby, aged just three months.

It was difficult to report on. I drive on that main road a few times a year. The house is still there, virtually unchanged.

There was a woman sitting on a chair on the house’s front porch when I passed back in December, 2002. On a whim I pulled over and said hello. We got talking. The woman was aware of the house’s history. She knew the family and went to school with the murdered woman’s sister.

The lights she’d put up with her partner followed the line of the veranda railings, continued around the windowsanddoorsandran up to the roof, where they seemed to form awingshape.

Her partner had climbed the roof to place lights in a pattern he thought was random, she said. People had said it looked like an angel’s wings but they hadn’t planned it that way.

They put the lights up because it was a little cottage with a sad history on a busy main road, but the familywas happy there.

“I do it for my kids and other people’s kids and for everyone to share the enjoyment of Christmas,” she said.

My neighbours across the road –a lovely couple and their two children –have gone to town this year after doing up their front garden. Their front deck is festooned with flashing lights. Their new front garden retaining wall is beautifully draped with strings of twinkling things. Even a giant gum tree is lit up with a rope of blue lights.

At night peoplewalk the streets,enjoy the show and talk about inflatable Santas while cicadas ring in summer.

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